Mitsubishi Kills i-MiEV Small Electric Car, Prepares Plug-in SUVs

By · December 17, 2015

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Mitsubishi announced last month it will no longer sell its i-MiEV electric hatchback in the United States, ending a five-year run characterized mostly by disappointing sales. Despite high hopes dating back to 2011 when it was released, and the lowest price among EVs, Mitsubishi managed to put fewer than 2,000 units on the road.

Even before the car hit the market, reviewers complained that the i-MiEV’s range was lower than the advertised 62 miles. In fact, under real world conditions, the i-MiEV’s range drops to 50 miles or less—if heat or air conditioning is required, or if driving into a headwind. Between its disappointing range, diminutive size, cartoonish styling and cheap interior, the i-MiEV was not well-suited to American car buyers. (The car fared better in Japan, where it serves as a small city car for short-distance drivers.)

Getting Real with Bigger Cars

On the heels of a financial turnaround, Mitsubishi is positioning itself to compete in the segment where it performs best: SUVs. In an interview with Automotive News, Osamu Masuko, Mitsubishi’s chief executive, said his company will launch three SUV models by 2020. New generations of the Outlander and Outlander Sport, as well as a yet-to-be-named new model, will fit in between its two current platforms.

The company promises that eventually all three platforms will house plug-in hybrid or EV powertrains. For the time being, Mitsubishi is preparing to offer a plug-in model it first promised for 2013, but after repeated delays will finally introduce in the U.S. in the coming spring: The 2017 Outlander Plug-in Hybrid.

The Outlander PHEV has been on the market in Japan and Europe for nearly three years, but Mitsubishi said demand was too high overseas to allow expansion to America. There were also technical hiccups that delayed the model’s arrival in the U.S., even as the SUV became the top-selling plug-in in the UK.

Pricing for the plug-in crossover hasn’t been announced, but if it lands in the $40,000-$50,000 range (before tax incentives), the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid could be well positioned in the market. Drivers pining for an electric crossover otherwise must spring for expensive luxury offerings like the Volvo XC90 T8, BMW X5 xDrive40e, or $130,000 Tesla Model X.

The Outlander will carry a 12 kilowatt-hour battery pack and an official range in the ballpark of 30 miles. Two 50-kW motors drive the axles individually and can take the SUV up to 75 miles per hour on electric power alone. A 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine supplements electric power or replaces it when the battery is depleted.

These capabilities, and the lack of competition for SUV plug-ins, means the Outlander has the potential to attract far more buyers than the i-MiEV ever did.

By 2017, Mitsubishi plans to add its new SUV model, at some point with a plug-in option. Then, in 2019, a larger, next-generation Outlander Plug-in Hybrid is due—as well as an electric-only version of the smaller Outlander Sport.

This line-up of robust Mitsubishi plug-in SUVs could help the company finally realize its electric ambitions in a way that the diminutive low-range i-MiEV—placed in an increasingly crowded market of capable EV hatchbacks and sedans—never could.

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